Series profile: Jeopardy

Here’s a blast from my past. Jeopardy was my favourite TV series when I was a kid, when it was broadcast on Tuesday (I think) afternoons on the ABC. For some reason memories of this series came back to me a week ago, and I did a search on YouTube to see if I could find it there. To my delight, some wonderful person had uploaded the entire series, and out of curiosity I watched the first episode again, to revisit those old childhood memories. Before I knew it, things had got out of hand, and here I am, seven days later, having binge-watched all 40 episodes, approximately 16 hours in total, in record time. I interrupted several marathons to get through this series, and I feel compelled to write a plug here for what I feel is an unjustly underrated show.

Jeopardy was produced by the CBBC and originally broadcast in 2002-2004. In a nutshell, it follows the story of a group of Scottish teenagers from Falkirk, members of their school’s UFO club, who travel with their teacher to the Australian bush to investigate purported UFO activity. In short: they find it. I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers by revealing that; the series is all about the group’s interactions with aliens, and the consequences in their increasingly surreal lives that their encounters have. Yes, this series is directed at children, but the plotting, the character drama, the sci-fi mystery, is all surprisingly mature and its appeal is clearly to adults as well as children. It is more mature than almost anything (televised) Doctor Who has produced, at any rate. In any case, the story is engaging and absorbing enough to compel me, at age 20, to binge-watch it in its entirety in the space of week — for what it’s worth.

And the plot is seriously absorbing. For just about the entire 16 hours I spent watching the series, I was sitting rapt with attention, hanging onto every word and every development. The story moves exhilaratingly quickly, which is perhaps why it is so wonderfully binge-able. The group’s encounters with the extra-terrestrial become increasingly intimate, seeing their lives upended as they become more closely involved with alien intervention, and the aliens with them. The series can be seen almost as a tragedy that follows the consequences of the group’s reluctant association with the shadowy “aliens” upon their own lives: what starts as a seemingly fun, innocent school camping trip to the Australian bush (in which few in the group actually expected to find any evidence of extra-terrestrial activity), what was supposed to be “a laugh”, as Chrissie put it, turns progressively into a freakish nightmare from which they can’t escape. The secret of this series is that it is not only creepy science fiction — the elements of which in the story, i.e. the constant mystery of their alien associates, were conveyed masterfully — but also an engaging character drama. The effect of the group’s involvement with the extra-terrestrial on their own lives is just as absorbing an element of the plot as the alien mystery that surrounds them, increasingly so as the series progresses in Series 2 and 3.

Of course, part of the wonderful character drama is that the series involves a cast of endearing characters in whom the audience becomes intensely emotionally invested. All of the main cast of the teenage group are flawed but relatable characters. They start out, appropriately enough, as a naive and not altogether agreeable bunch — typical Western teenagers, in short. There’s a prissy, self-centred blonde; a conceited, arrogant jock; a geek with his head in the clouds; a shy and introspective one; an insecure one; a tomboy… you get the picture. Often enough they’re at each other’s throats, and a number of members of the group aren’t able to get along with each other for a long time. The wonderful thing is that they all develop in their own ways to overcome, to varying extents, their flaws, as a result of their extraordinary and challenging experiences. They spend a lot of time fending for themselves, all the while attempting to address the challenges they are dealt, leading to their growth as individuals and as a group, an endearing thing to watch. Simon’s development is probably most significant — from arrogant, egotistic and macho to more humble and co-operative. Also significant was Chrissie’s and Harry’s development.

Unfortunately, the acting cannot be said to be among the best things about this series. The teenage actors performed competently, especially for the challenging parts they were given, for which they deserve to be applauded, but none of them stood out particularly — except for Shelley O’Neill, who played Shona. O’Neill’s performance already stood out from the rest at the beginning of the series, but by Series 3 she’s superb. O’Neill pulls off phenomenally what, in my opinion, is the creepiest moment of the entire series at the end of episode 5 of Series 3 (that’s all I can say without giving too much away). It’s a shame O’Neill hasn’t been involved in any subsequent screen productions, from what I can divine, because she shows genuine talent as Shona. Also worthy of note is Kari Corbett, who played Sarah — she, at least, received recognition for her talent as she has since been involved in a number of television roles, notably in Shameless and The Royal.

Jeopardy is one of those shows which are an enduring object of affection for those who watched it in their childhood, but which age extraordinarily well and can still be highly accessible, years after they are broadcast, to those discovering them for the first time. Jeopardy, in my opinion, is a scandalously underrated and unrecognised show, because it is truly excellent science fiction and drama. It has a dedicated cult following both in Australia and the United Kingdom, and justifiably so. I cannot rate this series highly enough, and would encourage anyone (especially those not from Australia or Britain) to find this series on YouTube and watch from beginning to end. I promise it will be one of the wildest, most thrilling, most emotional rides you’ll ever experience.

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